Teenagers are facing a particular set of serious issues in the midst of the pandemic, and many may not know where to find a helpful advisor as they wrestle with family illnesses, inability to find jobs in the midst of the shutdown, difficulties in applying for college or uncertainty on how to continue a university education that has been interrupted.
“We recognize that a lot of young people, especially seniors in high school, are discouraged and frustrated. With all the disruptions, some students are having trouble passing advanced classes, schools are not holding regular graduations, and colleges are not open for visits, ” said Kitty Kelly Epstein, interim chair of the board of the Oakland Private Industry Council.
That’s why PIC applied for and received a federal stimulus CARES Act grant through the City of Oakland to temporarily hire a young leader who can reach out to high school students in their virtual classes to answer questions, provide resources and encouragement at this difficult time.
“We thought it would be useful have someone closer to their age and facing similar obstacles talking about the things they actually can do right now,” said Epstein.
PIC hired Akil Riley to do the outreach. He will be meeting with students online until December 18 when school ends for the holidays. Under the law, the funding is short term. The stimulus money must be spent by December 30.
Riley, 19, is a graduate of Oakland Technical High School and a sophomore at the Historically Black College, Howard University. He is continuing his college classes from home. Music is his passion, and he talks a lot about how important it is to go to college, because you can find your true passion there.
In June, Riley and a co-organizer led a march of 15,000 students in Oakland protesting the police killing of George Floyd.
In an interview with the Oakland Post, Riley said he has already met with an Oakland Street Academy class and is set to have meetings with students at other schools.
“I give them resources: about jobs, about applying for college and how to access the food bank. I try to relate to the coronavirus; how hard it can be to keep going at this time. Not many people have tried to talk to them.”
A lot of the information that students pick up casually while being in a physical school environment is less likely to get communicated when they are at a distance from their peers and adults.
One of the biggest stresses students face is loss of their social network, said Riley, “It’s been nine months of not being able to see other. It’s important to keep going to look for a job and to talk to your friends and to find safe ways to stay in contact with them,” he said.